MBA Students Attend U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Summit

Carolyn Cawley, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation President welcoming students.

Written By: Michelle Chaudoir, MBA Student Contributor

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation sponsored a summit for MBA students to heighten awareness about how intimately non-market forces affect the business environment.  U.S. Chamber members span from main street businesses and local chambers to the nation’s largest companies and their respective industry organizations, so they experience first-hand how everything from a presidential tweet to a new government regulation touches business.  I am sharing my five key takeaways from the summit to shed light on why business engagement with government is vital to surviving and thriving in today’s environment.

  • Government is a growing portion of business’s business.
    We’re not just talking about securing government contracts. Since the 9/11 era, the government has had a growing influence on the business environment and industries can no longer afford not to engage.  “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” said Dan Clifton, Head of Policy Research at Strategas Securities, recently touted as the smartest man in Washington, D.C. This sentiment echoes the importance for businesses to build a government communications strategy, analyze how policy will affect their interests, mobilize their right to lobby and join the Chamber to ensure their voice is heard.  With over three million members, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the largest business organization in America and spends more to communicate the interests of its members than any other association in the country.
  • Business engages with whomever is in charge of the government.
    Business can’t shut down and wait until their favored political party is (back) in control. Business keeps going, making it vital to find touchpoints where consensus is possible so you can work on issues that are important to your business with whomever is at government’s helm, from the local school board on up to the presidency. It is better to be at the table than to let others fill the void, leaving you out of the conversation. There is evidence that companies that spend more on an engagement strategy begin to outperform the market because they have the pulse on issues that investors are not yet aware of.
  • While businesses compete over every penny of market share, they are stronger when they work together to address non-market forces.
    Strength in numbers brings businesses together to ensure that shared issues are addressed beneficially, either through self-regulation or proposed legislation. Industry advocates spend a lot of time educating lawmakers and others about their industry issues, using communication strategies like Geoforce to target messages to key individuals. On issues where they overlap, tech companies like Google and Salesforce are allies. But the different nature of their tech industries means that some tech issues affect one but not the other, and neither are social media which is the current hot tech topic on the Hill.
  • Have an engagement plan before you need it.
    “You can’t find a friend when you need one,” said Chris Padilla, Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs at IBM in his message about the importance of proactively addressing government and non-government uncertainty. Responding to today’s uncertainties requires that businesses invest in an offensive, defensive and risk-management communications strategy. Several consultants noted that they have had the proactive conversation with their clients about what to do if they or their industry becomes the butt of a presidential tweet. And we all recall being taken by surprise just seven days after the inauguration, with the announcement of the travel ban designed to heighten screening on refugees but with unintended effects on employees. Listening to the heart of the president’s concern and knowing their core value rooted in technology solutions, IBM and a coalition proposed that technology could be leveraged to ensure refugees are properly screened before relocating to the U.S.  While you can’t predict every issue, solid core values and advance thinking allow you to respond to uncertainty from a place of strength.
  • Do business for good.
    Never lose sight of your personal mission and the potential for your company to make change and improve lives. When business and government come together, we make a positive difference for workers, families and communities.

In summary, instead of asking why business should have a government engagement strategy, the question is “why not?”

Trying to understand the nuances of new legislation can be intimidating and following an issue in the news can be confusing, leaving you uncertain about which side to believe. But instead of putting your head in the sand, a toolkit full of data, a network of support, a communications plan and knowing your mission places companies in a better place to respond to issues and uncertainties.

A challenge is for more MBA faculty to be willing to incorporate government and other non-market perspectives into their courses. In the Washington, D.C. area in particular, a government perspective should be built into every MBA course, as the D.C. insider angle is a sustainable competitive advantage for program graduates, whether they remain in the DC area or leave to join organizations anywhere in the world.

A big thank you to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation for inspiring MBA students from across the region with amazing speakers and their insights on the growing influence of government on the market. We’ll never look at a case study the same again after having our eyes opened to all of the non-market forces that can affect business strategy. Conversely, we’ll never be able to read a news story or presidential tweet without wondering if the industries affected were prepared as we watch to see how they respond and ponder how we would respond if we were in their shoes.

Michelle Chaudoir works to bridge the conversations happening in the boardroom into her projects and grants in the non-profit and higher education space. She is enrolled in the George Mason University MBA program. Engagement, innovation and service drive her aspirations in building public – private partnerships.

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